People v. Sanchez: New Precedent on Hearsay Evidence

Posted by Seth Chazin | Jul 28, 2016 | 0 Comments

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After a jury trial, defendant Edgardo Sanchez was convicted of two counts of first degree murder, attempted murder, and twenty-six counts of robbery, two counts of attempted robbery, five counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and two counts of assault with a stun gun. He was sentenced to death.  The California Supreme Court issued a decision in this case that assists the criminal defendant in reducing the disposition of gang enhancements that usually carry a heavier penalty than the crime itself.  Sanchez undermines much of the law regarding the admission of hearsay during gang expert testimony.  

The court expert held that the testimony in the Sanchez case was erroneously adjusted and thus required reversal. The descriptions provided by the gang expert regarding the defendant's alleged gang activity were prejudicial, as the gang expert had no personal knowledge of the actual events described in the reports. The prosecution would have had a hard time proving these incidents through independent witnesses.  The court held that the testimony being introduced for a purpose other than proving the truth of the matter asserted and the hearsay bar does not apply.

The problem here is that the third party information can only support the expert's opinion if it is known to be true. Unless witnesses have been called to provide evidence that the facts are true, then the gang expert's testimony of the information contained in the reports is being used to try to prove the truth of the allegations. The court found this was inadmissible hearsay.

The Supreme Court in the Sanchez case distinguished between facts relating to an expert's qualifications and general knowledge, which can be proven by hearsay from third party sources, and “case-specific” information.  Case specific facts are defined as relating to particular events and or participants that have been involved in the case being tried. Parties try to establish the facts by calling witnesses with personal knowledge of those facts.  An expert is allowed to testify about more generalized information to help the jurors understand the significance of those case-specific facts and can give their opinion about what the facts mean. Yet, the expert is not allowed to provide case specific facts for which they have no personal knowledge.  Therefore, the court announced, “When any expert related to the jury case-specific out-of-court statements, and treats the content of those statements as true and accurate to support the expert's opinion, the statements are hearsay.”

For more on the case:Supreme Court of California, People v. Sanchez

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About the Author

Seth Chazin

Seth P. Chazin has aggressively defended clients in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases for over 25 years. He has extensive experience representing criminal defendants in federal and state court, while handling both state and federal appeals as well.


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